Fighting Pax | Chapter 9

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘We shall play some games, but I shall win,
for my name is Nimblesewskin.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The second I read ‘Nimbesewskin’ I knew exactly where this chapter was headed, and I was not disappointed. Even in his tough and serious YA trilogy, Robin’s got to have skinning. But because it’s Fighting Pax, instead of a dank rat’s lair or a spriggan’s hovel, the skinning takes place inside a Margaret Tarrant illustration. I don’t think ol’ Austers dreampt up that one – he hasn’t got the imagination.

Matt’s Thoughts: One can only wonder what the inspiration for this chapter was! The guards singing Spice Girls? The Wizard of Oz references? A FAIRYTALE SERIAL KILLER?It’s almost as if the deeper into Mooncaster we get, the more surreal the horror. I absolutely love it.

It did make me go and look up No Motherland Without You and it is every bit as insane as it appears in this chapter.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 8

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘Oh, God,’ Maggie uttered. ‘DJ’s here.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There are some wonderful Wyrd Museum echoes here. We’ve got creepy little girls in flickering corridors, preserved dead creepy-crawlies, majestic white beasts exhumed from legend, and even an anachronistic battle scene. Then the second half of the chapter brings us right back to Fighting Pax with a thump.  Suddenly, Eun-mi has killed her own father and Gerald is dead. I refuse to believe it, so instead I’m going to say ‘Oh no, he died! But there’s still this much left to go!’ and hope for the best. Encore, Gerald, encore!

Matt’s Thoughts: This is such a Netflix show waiting to be filmed. But the imagery is so vivid, I can also survive without a TV version! A skeleton unicorn savaging a bunch of North Korean soldiers who are falling under the power of Dancing Jax at the same time. The six-year-old Nabi picking up the book and continuing to read. It’s grim but

But lest all the gorings and shootings become too much, we see the incredible power for good that is Gerald. I’m not sure if there has been a character that radiated this much light into the dark world of Jarvis canon since Alice Boston.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 7

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

‘There was never a drunken headmaster, there was never a school nor a mirthless place called Felixstowe – there is only Mooncaster. That is the one reality. How pitiful it must be to be an aberrant and not know this plainest of truths.’

Aufwader’s Thoughts: Brutal chapter, absolutely brutal. Part of me didn’t believe the Jockey from the off, just because things like that never happen in Robin Jarvis books, but I still felt a bit sorry for poor ol’ Martin. Never mind the Ismus’ upcoming plans, Mr Baxter has been living in his own personal hell since that day at the shorefront jumble sale. Not to be depressing, but maybe it would’ve been better for him if he had been Jaxed – even being Billy the Midden-man has got to be better than the torment Martin has endured in the fight against Austerly Fellows.

Matt’s Thoughts: Did anyone else get taken in by the Jockey in this chapter? He sums up what is most disturbing about the Mooncaster takeover of humanity.

Clearly, an inhabited person becomes other than what they were, but retains enough knowledge of their earthly existence to be able to pretend to be the person that they were. (As soon as I write that sentence, it sounds convoluted but so is the concept!)

But in his ‘there is only Mooncaster’ speech, the true horror of the displacement occurs. The Jaxers are in the real world, but it simply isn’t real for them. They have as much contempt for our world as a stern adult for whimsical children’s fairytales.

I still can’t get over the brilliance of this trilogy.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 6

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

But there was something else – a strange clip-clopping.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: There are usually a lot of ‘Oh God, oh no!’ moments in the third book of a Jarvis trilogy, but there are enough in this chapter to *fill* an entire trilogy. Oh God, oh no, Gerald’s being hauled off! Eun-mi has heard everything he said to Lee! The plan has been discovered! The vase has been Jaxed and we’re all going to die!

But the worst ‘Oh God, oh no!’ comes at the very end. Oh God, oh no, not little Nabi too!

Matt’s Thoughts: I’m still pondering if the North Korean sequence is meant to be a homage to some famous films that Mr Jarvis likes. It’s quite a famous movie trope, the locked-down bunker where everything is going wrong and people are being picked off one-by-one. It makes me think of The Thing or Alien.

But Kalashnikovs and soldiers also gives a nod to many spy and escape thrillers as well.

In the end, it’s the juxtaposition that I love. Somehow a book that started in a very real-world English town has now turned into a life-and-death escape from a North Korean bunker. And it all seems to work marvelously well.

I can’t quite remember how the plot turns out for Nabi and Eun-mi but they have such spunk, I do have a wish that they would join up with our team and help take out the Ismus … why do I not feel that that will work?

Fighting Pax | Chapter 5

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

“The Lord of Rising Dawn is drawing nigh. He is returning to the land that was his. His light shall crown the hills with crimson flame and we shall bow before his unmatched majesty.”

Aufwader’s Thoughts: When Spencer’s strapped to the operating table about to get his head sawn open, we’re inclined to go, ‘Oh, if only Gerald had got everyone out sooner! If only Maggie hadn’t decided to give Spencer the mop! If only Lee had seen him as he passed by with the guards!’

There were so many times Spencer could have been saved, but in the end maybe it actually worked out for the better. Would Maggie have thought to recite from Dancing Jax to put Doctor Choe under at the last minute? Perhaps not. And then we would’ve had one dead teen, and perhaps many more as they were slowly picked off for ‘examination’.

With that terrible fate deterred, however, it’s one crisis to the next, for as ol’ AF himself put it, the Dancing Jacks have entered in.

Matt’s Thoughts: I think this would be my favourite chapter in the whole book. I’ve always had a soft spot for Young Spencer and this is a great Spencer moment.

I think I like the contrast between his introversion and his rogue courage. He rarely joins in on all the bickering and arguing that takes place between Maggie, Lee and the others. (Not that there are many ‘others’ left after Alisdair and Marcus got taken out of the picture!) But then out of nowhere he’ll do something crazily heroic.

Like turning Dr Choe to escape from being surgeried up. Sheer genius! And the way the sequence unfolds, with the fluttering book hiding in various places around the room. Love it. It’s mental cinema with surround sound.

Fighting Pax | Chapter 4

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Grabbing the discarded stuffed bear, she laid it on its back with its legs in the air. Then, using the scissors, she mimed cutting it open.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: An absolutely chilling chapter, and not just because the logs for the stove are rationed! Between Martin and Lee’s fight (one of the bitterest and most spiteful confrontations in Jarvis canon to my mind) and the image of Marshal Tark’s bleeding corpse being dragged into the cold blackness of a North Korean operating theatre for dissection by the terrifying Doctor Choe, it seems like our protagonists might not survive long enough for the Jaxers to catch up with them.

Matt’s Thoughts: One wonders – between this chapter and the chilling surgery scene in the last Wyrd Museum book – does Mr Jarvis have some horrible memory of a surgery that he is still working through? Or is there just a universal fear of surgery deep inside all of us that he has tapped into? (I went in for a hernia operation a few years back and – while it was minor surgery – I do have to say that it is an intense experience.)

But as soon as this chapter confirms what we all feared with the idea of ‘lifting restrictions’, all safety is gone from the novel. What’s worse? Jaxers or crazy Frankenstein-like doctors?

Fighting Pax | Chapter 3

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If you start thinking the Jaxers are anything but victims then what does that make you?

Aufwader’s Thoughts: This book was quite late to publication, if I’m remembering right, and when it was finally released, there was no hardback edition to match the previous two. It’s naive, these days, to imagine that a delayed print run might be because of the actual content of the manuscript, but in this instance, it’s not unimaginable.

Some of the stuff in this chapter would be difficult to print in adult fiction, but YA? Cannibalism, child abuse of all kinds, graphic torture, we’ve had just about everything at this point in the series. Satanic doings, internment camps for teens, and now this? It’s as if Robin knew he was going back to cosy middle-grade after this trilogy was over and wanted to squeeze as many shocking scenes and thorny topics into this final Jaxy curtain call as he could. Well, we’re only three chapters in. Let’s see what else he can throw at us.

Matt’s Thoughts: Ruthless, Mr Jarvis! After presenting us with a roomful of Korean characters as well drawn as any other minor characters in the Jarvis Universe, two of them are dead by the end of the chapter!

I haven’t seen the film, but I read the book World War Z a few years ago, in which a zombie infestation of the world is described as a series of oral histories by survivors of the crisis. The characters in the story come from all over the world and what raises the book above an otherwise fairly ordinary zombie apocalypse tale is watching how different cultures react to the problem. The South Africans use an old apartheid master plan as a way of separating themselves from infested townships. Some Chinese soldiers steal a nuclear submarine and survive at sea, avoiding all major countries. Etc.

And the North Koreans, from memory, retreated into their country, shut all the borders and nobody ever saw sign of them again. Did they survive? Did they all live in underground bunkers? Or did they all turn into undead? We never find out.

There’s a touch of that here, as the North Koreans think through such plans as strapping a nuclear warhead to Lee. Clearly that plan was scrapped but the mention of ‘lifting restrictions’ at the end is even more ominous …

Fighting Pax | Chapter 2

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Warning: Contains Spoilers!

He thought it was important to remind them, especially the younger ones, what their world was like before all this had happened.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: In the awfulness of Freax and Rejex, it was easy to forget that people like Gerald were still alive and kicking even in a Jax-infested world. The one small scene between he and Maggie, while it certainly doesn’t ‘make up’ for Freax in any way, reminds us that there is still some hope to be had in this bleak trilogy.

Gerald’s line about ‘Mr Despair’ has stuck with me since I first read it, and is probably one of my favourites in all Jarvis canon. Even chained up in North Korea with a hellscape outside, the Castle Creeper is still alive, it’s possible to undo the effects of Dancing Jax, there’s a full book to turn things around, and we are not at home to Mr Despair.

Matt’s Thoughts: I don’t know whether British people worry as much about North Korea as Australians do. But there’s something about living in the South Pacific – and maybe our sensationalist media – that makes us worry about this enigmatic country. It’s a place that simultaneously strikes us as terrifying and fascinating at the same time. So reading this chapter, with its descriptions of TVs checked for tampering and tours of Pyongyang mausoleums, is grimly amusing.

But the moment that makes this chapter is, of course, the conversation between Maggie and Gerald. We’ve talked earlier about how it was a bold move creating a whole new cast of characters for the second book of this trilogy but now that we see characters from Books 1 and 2 interacting, it’s all paying off.

It makes so much sense that Gerald would be a source of positivity and counselling to the traumatised young people of Freax and Rejex. There was almost no kindness displayed by the adults in that second book, so to see something like this in Book 3 offers us a little bit of hope.

Final question: was it ever made clear in Book 1 that Gerald was an aberrant? I’m assuming he is, but there’s also part of me that feels that if there was one person in this whole series who could withstand the Ismus and his crew by sheer force of personality, it would be Gerald …

Fighting Pax | Chapter 1

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‘Just another day chained up in North Korea,’ he murmured.

Aufwader’s Thoughts: The world of this trilogy is just so out-there that, when this chapter starts after Martin’s panicky blog post, we just accept it. Lee agreed to the Ismus’ terrible bargain and now the world is a hellish dystopia in which he lives with Charm and their daughter. Seems plausible. In fact, it’s actually more plausible than Lee waking up as a test subject in, of all places, North Korea. I suppose at this point, since we’re two books in and heading for the finale, it’s go big or go to hell, and I reckon Mr Jarvis is planning to do both.

Matt’s Thoughts: Well, any thought that I might be eased back into the world of Dancing Jax after my little break in Hagwood was completely wrong. Here in Chapter 1, front and centre, the tragedy of Charm and Lee is put back before us. The very worst events of Freax and Rejex – in fact, the very worst events in the Jarvis Universe – are dragged up and we’re traumatised all over again.

The only thing that makes up for this is the sheer brilliance of Lee waking up in North Korea. It makes perfect sense that if there was one country that was going to hold out against Jax, but still not feel like a safe place to be in, it would be North Korea. I did not see this twist in events coming the first time I read the book and it still makes me smile every time.

Up Next |Fighting Pax

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While it’s been nice enjoying this light-hearted romp through the forest of Hagwood, I’m afraid that we’re going back to Mooncaster!

Yes, it’s Fighting Pax, one of the single-most ambitious finales Jarvis has ever attempted. It could be just me, but I often imagine Robin Jarvis books played out in some sort of visual format. In my head, I imagined Dancing Jax as a TV series and Freax and Rejex as a big-screen movie. But Fighting Pax? That one, I see on an IMAX screen.

It’s massive in every sense of the word as we follow our (remaining) characters from Freax and Rejex in their last desperate stand against the kingdom of the Dawn Prince. Grab a copy and join us in November!